Book review: Stuck in Downward Dog

Monday, July 14, 2008

My first book to review from MiniBookExpo, and I picked a light “chick-lit” read to complement the summer weather: Stuck in Downward Dog. Chantel Simmons’ debut novel is a pleasant, humourous read about Mara Brennan, a mid-20’s woman who hits a rough patch — job, boyfriend, apartment, friends — and gets through it while learning something about herself and her friends.

There were a lot of things that I liked about this book. First of all the Toronto setting was used well, and there were great insider references, such as when Mara’s friend tried to pass off her new Mississauga location as “Port Credit” (an accurate place name, but to anyone who lives in the 416 area code, it’s all just undifferentiated suburban wilderness). I was pleasantly surprised to find out that a new boyfriend does not figure in her miraculous turnaround — in fact, Mara does it pretty much on her own, with a bit of help from her friends. There’s a nutritional epiphany about a healthy-sounding smoothie. There’s some great inner monologues of Mara’s thoughts during yoga class.

There were parts of the storyline that could have been improved. First, Mara spends 25 years getting herself into a complete disaster of a life, including the worst two months of it chronicled in the first part of the book, then manages to turn the entire thing around in 3 weeks. A bit unrealistic, considering that she comes off as a bit of a naive pushover. The two girlfriends were painted as cruel caricatures; if they were really such bitches, I can’t believe that Mara, pushover that she is, would have been best buds with them all this time. She refers to her size 10 body as if it were bordering on obese, which is not a great message to be sending to her target audience, even if they are pigging out on those calorie-laden smoothie.

In spite of its flaws, I found Stuck in Downward Dog to be a fun read with lots of laughs, and may even be inspirational to young women who are looking for the courage to find the right job, the right apartment and the right relationship with their friends.

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